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UK Covid cases surge after anniversary; BA.4, BA.5 become dominant

A total of 1,739,700 people tested positive for the virus in the week ended June 18, new estimates from Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

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LONDON – Britain’s Covid-19 cases are on the rise again, according to new data, suggesting a surge in infections after the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations.

A total of 1,739,700 people tested positive for the virus in the week ended June 18, estimates by Britain’s Office for National Statistics showed on Friday.

That figure is 75% higher than two weeks ago, before Britons celebrated the Queen’s 70th anniversary on the throne with a long weekend of street parties and social gatherings.

The surge comes as Britain’s Health Security Agency said on Friday that the latest technical data suggests two new Omicron variants – BA.4 and BA.5 – have become dominant in the UK, driving the recent spike in infections.

The two variants now account for more than half of new Covid cases in England, accounting for around 22% and 39% of cases respectively.

“It is clear that the increasing prevalence of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 adds significantly to the case numbers that we have been monitoring in recent weeks,” UKHSA’s Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Susan Hopkins, said on Friday.

UKHSA’s most recent analysis suggests that BA.5 is growing 35.1% faster than the previously dominant BA.2, while BA.4 is growing about 19.1% faster. This suggests that BA.5 is likely to become the dominant Covid variant in the UK soon

Both variants were named “variants of concern” in May, although scientists said there is currently no evidence that either variant causes more severe disease than previous strains.

However, health experts reminded people to make sure their vaccinations are up to date and to continue to engage in Covid-safe behaviour. This includes staying at home if you have respiratory symptoms or a fever and limiting contact with others until you are feeling better.

Around 20-25% of people in the UK are currently unvaccinated.

“As prevalence increases, it is more important than ever that we all remain vigilant, take precautions and make sure we are up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, which remain our best form of defense against the virus,” he said Hopkins.

Cases and hospitalizations on the rise

ONS data on Friday showed positive cases as a percentage of the community were highest in Scotland, where one in 20 people tested positive for the virus in the past week.

It was followed by Northern Ireland (one in 30), England (one in 40) and Wales (one in 45).

Overall, England reported the most cases at 1,360,600, followed by Scotland (250,700), Wales (68,500) and Northern Ireland (59,900).

Britain celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with a four-day weekend from June 2nd to 5th.

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The data, which is being compiled by randomly testing thousands of people from private UK households to determine whether they have symptoms or not, aims to provide the clearest picture of Covid infections in the UK since free public testing stopped in England and Scotland .

Covid hospitalizations, in line with community infections, have increased by 8.2% in England over the past week, according to UKHSA data.

“The pressure on the healthcare system in terms of occupied beds is increasing,” said Dr. Duncan Robertson, member of the scientific collective Indie Sage, during a briefing on Friday.

Vaccination continues to keep severe admissions and deaths at low levels, UKSHA said on Friday. The ICU and Nursing Unit admission rate remained low at 0.2% over the same period.

However, Robertson cautioned against complacency, noting a slight increase in deaths in the week ending June 18 and noting possible bias in reporting of the holiday.

“If you look at the data in terms of the number of deaths reported, it has increased in the latest release, but that could be due to the anniversary effects,” he said.